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Open government means better government for all

Newspapers across Mississippi today are beginning a series ofreports examining secrecy in government, officials’ efforts to keepinformation from the public and the need for more transparency whenconducting the public’s business. The articles, written byreporters and editors from the Associated Press and participatingnewspapers across the state, look at issues ranging from access topublic records to open meetings laws.

Locally, citizens can take comfort that – for the most part -current administrators of the city, county and schools, and lawenforcement officials make good faith efforts to conduct themselvesaccordingly regarding public records and open meetings. One schoolboard even has, if you will, a “cheat sheet” to make sure they arefollowing the law when opting to close a meeting and go intoexecutive session, most often for student-related matters.

Unfortunately, efforts to follow to the law have not always thenorm here.

Some past administrations have scoffed at open meetings lawswhen closing meetings simply to keep comments and discussionssecret and also have concocted some feeble excuses for denyingpublic records requests. During those years, The DAILY LEADER wasforced on several occasions to file lawsuits to insure compliancewith state laws.

On the law enforcement side, current authorities do their bestto be forthcoming when discussing criminal activities andincidents. They are wise in their ability to provide incidentdetails while not revealing so much that their investigations couldbe compromised.

While state newspapers are leading the latest open governmenteffort, it is important to note that transparency in government isnot just a media issue. It is very much a public issue, sincemembers of the public are the ones footing the bill – in the formof taxes – to pay for government operations.

Newspaper reporters, as well as our colleagues in the broadcastmedia, have no more rights than any citizen on the street when itcomes to open meetings and public records.

The difference, though, is that we have an ability to spreadgained information quickly to a very wide audience. And as peoplewho deal daily with the flow of information, it is our duty toensure that the public’s business is conducted in public.

As readers will see in the secrecy in government series over thenext week, the benefits of open government mean better governmentfor all.